Spending the morning alone with CJ is taking me back a few years, to the first year-and-a-bit I spent alone at home with my first-born (his younger sister arrived not quite eighteen months after him, at which point, life became considerably more chaotic). The house was so quiet. I used to turn on the radio, or the television, for company. We were living in a new city and knew no one. I didn’t feel lonely. I was 26 years old, and utterly thrilled by motherhood, captivated by this newfound, instant purpose to my life. I am thinking about this not only because my feelings have changed in ways profound and subtle over the last eight years, but also because we have been discussing the implications of stay-at-home mothering in my women’s studies class. For most of the students, fresh out of high school, this is purely theoretical. For me, it feels deeply personal. That slogan “the personal is the political” is suddenly relevant. At times during last night’s lecture I felt hurt and upset, as when the professor said rather casually something along these lines: most of you aren’t planning to get your degrees so you can stay at home and bake cookies and raise children, are you? Her point being: at this stage in your lives, all of you fresh-faced, ambitious first-years, you’re harbouring bigger plans, right? But that’s me. That’s me in a nutshell. I am the woman with the master’s degree at home with my children baking cookies. My professor was essentially sympathetic to the quandaries and choices families have to make, husband and wife together, in order to raise children in a society that hasn’t really figured out how to support young families: is daycare the answer? Early childhood education? Paternity leaves and benefits? Why is there this unspoken concept of “the mommy track”? Her answer to all of these: it’s the patriarchy, stupid (I paraphrase).
I can’t do this topic justice in one blog post, so herewith, I present a few random thoughts. First, I refuse to think of this (at least) decade spent primarily with my children as lost time, or a waste of my talents and abilities. There was nothing I wanted more than to stay home with my babies. Nothing. No amount of subsidized daycare could have driven me back to work, when I had the option, financially speaking, to stay home. I asked Kevin whether he felt a horrible pang upon returning to work, leaving his babies at home. He couldn’t remember. He is, however, a very active involved father, and I know his feelings toward our children are just as strong as mine. But the truth is, had he wanted (and been able) to stay home, I would have fought him to get to stay home instead. I didn’t want to leave my babies and go back to work. On the other hand, what Betty Friedan was addressing in The Feminine Mystique, “the problem that has no name,” that puzzling, weary, unspoken malaise experienced by many stay-at-home mothers (in the 1960s, and now) is a real phenomenon. It’s a feeling of spiritual lack, unfed by middle-class wealth and comfort; and of personal, often secret, longing. The feeling of being unfulfilled. And guilty, too, becase our children are supposed to fulfill us, somehow–I would argue that still remains the overwhelming trope.
I would like to counter this with a baking-your-cookies-and-eating-them-too philosophy: my own, which is unfolding even now. We live our lives in stages. I’m not a big believer in being able to do–or trying to do–everything all at once. If I am fortunate, my life will stretch long enough to be lived in quite different ways at different times. (Though this is not without compromise). I am coming to the end of the young-child stage, the every day, every minute, pre-verbal, breastfeeding, diapering, lost sleep stage. Of course, my children will continue to need me, but not at this same level of simple intensity. The problems become more complex, but children grow. It’s what they do best.
For me, spending this young-child stage so completely with my young children has been deeply fulfilling. But, like my professor suggested, it is not the only thing that I want to do. I’m getting ready to move along, to enter the world, on occasion, unencumbered by my children (I mean that literally; as a young mother, I felt naked on the rare occasion I was out in public without my kids, I wanted to tell every passing person about their existence; and I don’t feel that need anymore, which is an interesting shift).
What fascinates me about life is how much there is to learn from every situation, every pain, every contact, every seemingly ordinary moment. No one told me to take this class at this moment in my life; in fact, it seemed a bit silly, even self-indulgent. (I am taking it because, should I choose to pursue a degree in midwifery, this course would count toward that). But it has become, like so many of the things I’ve chosen despite no one telling me that I should or could, another entry point for these random pinpricks of light that illuminate my path.
Kevin cropped these for me: Fooey in her school lineup waiting to go in and start this next chapter in her life. We have now been regaled with stories and memories from that day (yes, it was only yesterday), and she was disappointed not to be heading back with the big kids this morning. “I was happy,” she confided as I hugged her (best hug ever) after that first full day. And I was happy for her! And yet my heart is quietly mourning this passage. Here begins her life apart from us–not a large part of her life, of course, not yet, and oh how proud I am of her confidence, her solid nature; but a part nevertheless. She will survive small struggles all by herself. She will manage. She will test out this larger world. She will discover. She will enjoy. Her mind is so eager to be lit with new experiences, to learn, and she will. I think parenting is renewing this pledge over and over: to let go, to trust our children, and to meet them wherever they are–to be in that present place, for them. At the very moment of her birth, this child occupied her space without me
; even then. It’s just that I still see her at that moment, sometimes; especially when I look at these photos. I still see her as she was.
Do you ever have a day when you feel struck by thankfulness, positively overwhelmed? That was my today. It was ordinary enough, I suppose, but filled with small gifts and reversals of fortune everywhere I turned. For example, after supper, my plans to get together with my siblings fell through so instead I rearranged the girls’ room and the playroom (it all started with an old wooden toy fridge, which we received secondhand years ago, falling over and almost crushing CJ; obviously time to get rid of it, and though it seemed like an insignificant object, its removal precipitated a great upheaval of furniture; CJ was unscathed, I must add). After this satisfying exertion, and having some scheduled “free” mama-away time, I threw on my running shoes and ran and ran and ran and ran around the neighbourhood. It felt transcendent. My breathing was easy, my body removed and full of energy, and my mind calm and meditative; the kind of meditation where you’re not really thinking about anything, your mind feels clear, untroubled. I run so rarely, it hadn’t occurred to me I’d be fit enough to arrive at that place of exercise nirvana. Note to self: get out and do this again! Burst blotchy-faced and sweaty through the door only to discover sibs night was back on and there was still an hour before Kevin was due to leave for hockey. So I got out after all. Cancelled out the run by eating soup, salad AND brie-dripping panini (thanks, sis). Arrived home in time for Kevin to get a ride to the first hockey game of the season with his friends–I literally flagged them down as they were pulling out of our driveway.
Okay, now that I write this all out it doesn’t sound special in the least. Neverthless. I’m glad and grateful and the slow-cooker’s been working well (roasted chicken was fabulous) and Kevin packed the kids’ lunches and and and. Full. I’m too full to sleep.
Or not. Never too anything to sleep.
(Can I confess that I’m almost too superstitious to post this entry; pride goeth before a fall, or, if you always think the worst, you’re more likely to be pleasantly surprised, which is not a real saying. Thankfully.)
Here’s an article I stumbled across online that offers a tiny window into the wastelands of CanLit obscurity. It rang rather horribly true. I’ve spent this summer deliberately not writing. Not writing poetry, not writing stories, not writing anything except the occasional blurb-like blog entry. Instead, I’ve been going, doing, cooking, eating, drinking, biking, talking, dozing, rising, reading. At first, I thought I’d go crazy without an outlet for my imagination; oddly, it’s been the opposite, which is frightening me ever so slightly as I prepare to return to a more regular writing life, afforded by children returning to school, and regular babysitting hours funded by dwindling grant monies.
My heart is querying: why? And I’m querying: heart, can you bear to return to that sheaf of rejected poems? Can you bear to begin again another new project? Can you bear to travel to those dark and lonely places?
It’s occurred to me that were I to remove the ambition of being a writer from my psyche, mine would be a full and fulfilling life. With that hole of doubt and hope plastered over, life looks simple–not simplistic. A clean wall on which to hang new photographs, less mirrors.
This post isn’t a question. It’s the hum of an observation.
But here’s a question: what if the gifts I’ve interpreted as belonging to “writer,” actually belong to some other vocation?
I know I’m good at: expressing emotions, witnessing moments, sitting quietly, focussing deeply, finding humour, sharing beauty in imagery and language, listening, reflection, taking responsibility, organizing, planning, assessing situations and staying flexible.
I know sometimes I’m: too introspective, overly analytical, reticent, impatient. Sometimes my expectations (for myself and for others) are way too high. I eat cheese almost every night before bed. My favourite dream hasn’t change since childhood, and it involves riding a wild horse.
Enough with the sequitors and non-. I will leave this post as … to be continued. Ain’t life interesting?
**written at the “new” cottage, The Treehouse, Seeley’s Bay, Ontario**
Afternoon. Too beautiful to sit indoors. Shadows of leaves, the bay water, wind, Fooey watching videos, CJ asleep, big kids and Kev trying out a round of pitch-and-putt golf. I spent yesterday and this morning reading, all in a big sustained gulp, The Girls, by Lori Lansens, a book found here in the cottage. Couldn’t resist (despite bringing along two library books, now untouched). This was not deep literary fiction, though well-crafted and appealing. Lightish. I appreciated the small, quiet observations, such as how the most extraordinary situations don’t seem bizarre while they’re happening, it’s only afterward that one has to cope with them and reflect upon them and place them, name them–not just experience them–that the reverberations are felt. The narrator wonders whether perhaps we never get over our losses. It is funny how we’ve accustomed ourselves by that phrase to believe that human beings “get over” things, as if we could ascend a loss and then descend on the other side, walk so far we couldn’t see or remember it anymore. It’s more like the effects are embedded within us. Not that we’re doomed to spend our lives sad and ruined, just that life doesn’t permit us to be the same.
Is reading a distraction, or does it pull me into a different kind of now?
I worry often that I’m not present enough. And then wonder what presence really means.
Wondering–what will make me happy, satisfied, content, or is that mining false gold even to seek such ephemerals? Wondering–what will I choose to do with my days? Is it enough to cook, clean, preserve, parent? What more, exactly, am I craving? I want to fill these days absolutely to overflowing with meaningful actions; and feel a simultaneous and contradictory pull to let my days fill themselves naturally.
I used to think that writing was a way of seeking and perhaps finding permanence; certainly it’s been for me a form of solitary meditation. I’ve begun to think, however, that it leaves something out: the body. And I wonder–is doing, experiencing, being present oddly more permanent? I think about the families I got to know through doula’ing, and how my life and theirs are, for that speck of time, embedded with each other’s–because we were present and together at a significant moment of transition and becoming. My part was small, and it wasn’t my story, but I bore witness. Bearing witness … that may be where my talents lie.
Writing is one way to bear witness: the private distillation of experiences, physical and emotional, into words. It can feel intimate, but it’s also crushingly lonely. Reading may be another way, opening oneself to a larger world, to different stories. Also solitary. The appeal of the doula experience, upon reflection, is the shared human interaction; yes, it’s a way bear witness, but in a physical, corporeal way. It happens and then it’s over. You can’t write about it afterward (I can’t, anyway, not descriptively). The fact of it happening is enough, more than enough.
Come to think of it, that’s a lot like parenting.
Okay, that handwritten scrawl of a self-indulgent text required way too much editing. Writing directly to blog is much more efficient. And I didn’t come around, at the end, to any satisfying conclusions. Sorry folks. Above, an inundation of photos. Sorry, again. Guess I really really really missed blogging.
Why eat off your tray while sitting in your high chair when you can eat off your tray while standing on the arm of your high chair? You’ll scream your lungs out if someone tells you not to, too.
It’s funny, but almost as soon as I entertained the notion of babysitting this coming year, the opportunity evaporated; and I don’t think I’ll seek out others. If it happens, it happens, and it feels like perhaps life is pointing elsewhere instead. Really, I operate within this ephemeral combinaton of action and acceptance. Chasing the most vital dreams, opening myself to the unexpected, trying to embrace where I’m actually at. Can I confess that it feels harder, now, to be mothering an adventurous 14-month-old, than it felt when Albus and Apple-Apple were similarly aged, and I was still in my twenties? I gave myself over to that role wholly; but am experiencing more ambivalence now, itching to re-emerge into my own individual self; but don’t want to cheat this sweet young man of whatever intensity of mothering he needs.
The laundry calls. As do the “little kids.”